From Pectis’s Guide to the Ancient Wonders of Orias, by Pectis Abiadel, Great Scribe and World Traveller:
Entry: Cawold’s Bridge:
Aside from the elven city of Ellorione, Cawold’s Bridge and the nearby ruins are the only known pre-Annazian structures in the Spreythorne region.
Emerging from the grass without so much as a cornerstone or statue, an unbroken slab of grey stone, a yard thick and thirty-five man-paces wide, spans a full mile over the river without supports, trellises, or bracing, reaching a height of about 200 feet at its apex (and so considering its length, rather flat). The bridge itself is so simple a first-time viewer is often dissapointed, finding more visual interest in the village haphazardly perching at its midsection.* It is only upon reflection, when the impossibility of the structure hits you, that the visitor is overcome with amazement at the ancient power before him.
No one knows how the bridge was constructed or by whom. Recently discovered records indicate the Annazian sages expended great effort investigating the bridge and attempting to discover the secret of its construction, but to no avail. No act of man, nature, or magic has ever marred its surface, although moss, mold, and lichen grow quite well on its shadier side. Some have questioned whether The Powermaster himself could break it, or if even he would find it immutable. Perhaps he would only be able to uproot it, tossing it unbroken downstream to join the other ruins of the past.
The bridge is located about a quarter mile upstream of the Bytewater’s first fork into the Moosefens. Below the bridge, the Bytewater loses its speed, flattening and forking into a thousand channels. Keep in mind the river is now flowing almost dead north. The water here is still clear, not having picked up the tanins that give the pools of the lower Moose Fens their characteristic black-tea consistency, and cold enough to steal your breath. This is effectively the mouth of the Bytewater, although it takes another 100 miles to reach the sea. Cawold’s Bridge is generally held to mark the place where the Moosefens give way to the low lying hills of the Hurt Valley. Even so, the region for two dozen miles below the bridge is more properly classified as swamp, rather than fen, being thickly forested with birch, goblin oaks, northern cypress, and towering ghost firs. The underbrush primarily consists of damnable spreythornes, of the freshwater variety, as well as your usual blend of reeds, grasses, and poison-everything.
About a mile downstream from the bridge, the river traveller will start to spot structures slouching among the clots of birch and briars beyond the bank, and will know they have reached the ruins of the ancient city.
Records show the Annazians excavated large portions of the city (perhaps even all of it), naming it Listow** and unearthing great treasures of beauty and power. Like all wealth they created, the treasures went south to the great cities; only The Loremaster knows what became of them during the Fog of Years. In the intervening millenia, much of the excavated areas have been refilled by spring floods, and those that have not are half sunken and overgrown. The summer foliage is too thick for even an elven ranger to comfortably pass through, and the climate makes winter exploration difficult and dangerous. Nevertheless, some do journey to the ruins, a few out of curiosity, to see the works of the ancients, most out of greed, hoping to fish from the mire some trinket the Annazians were too proud to carry off.
There is, therefore, a small area of the city that is relatively accessible and safe. The path for treasure hunting and sight seeing is the same; when the Bytewater first forks follow left then bear right. After about half a mile, began watching for the second major fork.* Shortly before this fork, to the right sits a narrow and deep channel between two high banks. Follow this channel. After going a few hundred yards the traveller will find himself in front of the Great Inn, so named for its numerous balconies and small rooms. The Inn is as good a place as any to camp. It is dry, which is a perk, and in case of any hostile creatures its second floor would be easily defensible. There is also often a stock of firewood left over from previous explorers or clerics of The Wanderer. I must stress the name was given to the structure with a touch of irony – if there was ever an innkeeper he is as long dead as Daerthylion himself. The traveller who does not pack appropriate rations is in for a hungry evening.
From the Inn, the explorer can conveniently access the local parts of the city by small boat: he can head south, paddling beneath the Arch of Trayhan to see the Tomb of Astaigias. To the east is a channel circling the baths and a racetrack, and crossing the “marketplace” (in actuality a large pool that was probably the city’s refuse heap, but has proven to be a good source of found objects, especially pottery). Finally, if he is willing to break a sweat, the explorer can drag his boat through the Inn to the pool on its other side. From there a channel will take him north to the Merchant’s District. This is the best excavated area, and sits well above the waterline. The buildings average 3-4 stories in height and continue for several hundred paces. They are all perfectly preserved and covered by magnificent reliefs depicting scenes of nature and heroism. From my experience the Merchant’s District was the one thing that made the journey, stirge attacks, and exertion worth it.
As mentioned, this is but a small region of the entire ruins, as structures can be found over a stretch three miles east to west and five miles north to south. However, further exploration has been reported as fruitless at best, and at worst deadly. Years ago when I visited the ruins, lizardmen had taken up residence in the far northwest quadrant and were engaged in vicious warfare with the local halfling tribes. I heard the halflings eventually triumphed, but such news would be little comfort to anexplorer who found himself roasting in a lizardman’s cookpot (or, for that matter, a halfling’s cookfire, if the rumors are to be believed!) Additionally, the Scarred Lions used the southwestern area known as the Walled Gardens as a base of operations during the Waicotte Invasion. To this day river travellers report hearing voices speaking dead languages, feeling chill winds in the dead of summer, and darker things still when passing the area. Finally, large swaths of the city, perhaps even most of it, lie on the hills to the north and east of the Great Inn region. However, wild beasts and difficult terrain have brought foul luck to any treasure hunters who have ventured there.
All in all, I must recommend visiting Cawold’s bridge. The bridge itself is a true wonder, and is a must stop on any sight seeing journey in the region. Further, the residents are very hospitable and the fish is quite good. I am ambivalent on my recommendations on visiting Cawold’s ruins, though. For those wishing to see the splendor of the ancients’ cities, one must visit nearby Ellorione, the high elven city nearby in the peninsular mountain range; always a sight worthy of the poetry of The Eternal Bard himself. Cawold’s ruins, however, sadly fail to amaze in the way many other sites do. Even the Abandoned Inn area is a hassle to get to, and the paddle back upstream is exhausting. For the true lover of antiquity, the Merchant’s District is noteworthy, but for the merely curious, the ruins are simply too much risk and effort to be worth it.
*Indeed, the way the local human and halfling communities have repurposed the bridge into one an effective fishing industry is to be admired, and the cleverness of the races should always bring a smile to one’s face – The Mathmaster be praised.
- The reader may notice that the name has been repurposed by Granvall Anitah and his cronies for their recently constructed port on the seaward side of the Moosefens. Granvall is quite the historian (I suppose anyone has something going for them) and chose the name intentionally, probably to feed his delusions of grandeur – The Indolent One be damned.
- The seasoned traveller will note that this is where the bargeman once forked to the left, to continue downstream to the port of Magdara, but, with Magdara nothing but ashes and memory, now forks to the right to pay Granvall his due at Listow.